Be funny. That's all I ask from most comedies. If a comedy makes me laugh, then I'm willing to overlook countless shortcomings or deficiencies in other areas — poor editing, lousy framing, drab staging, iffy sound design, you name it. But if, by some miraculous confluence of the commercial and creative gods, a comedy is both funny and profound, then it deserves to be mentioned alongside some of the movies' greatest works of art: Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr., Jacques Tati's Playtime, Mike Judge's Office Space, Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz.
Now, 21 Jump Street doesn't have much of anything to say about the world. But that's no matter — it's still really, really funny.
Aside from a couple of out-of-nowhere cameos, 21 Jump Street the movie shares little with the oft-snickered-about television show from the late 1980s, wherein undercover cops solved crimes while posing as high school students. In a way, the film's title is the first in a series of sly set-ups designed to throw the viewer off-balance. Since there's no reason to expect anything from such dubious source material in the first place, when the first laughs arrive they are both shocking and funny. The film's high spirits are infectious.
After botching a routine arrest, officers Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmitty (a never-better Jonah Hill) are forced into the Jump Street operation and assigned to a local high school, where they have to infiltrate and take down a drug ring. While the impeccably sculpted Jenko is eager to reclaim his role as an alpha-male jock, the cerebral Schmitty is afraid he'll have to live through his miserable teenage years once more. However, thanks to Jenko's idiocy, it's Schmitty who gets a chance to rule the school while his far dumber partner has to fake his way through honors courses and befriend the geeks.
21 Jump Street was written by Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who also co-directed the fantastic 2009 animated film Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Like Brad Bird's zany Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the best passages of Lord and Miller's film galvanize the mundane world of living, breathing human beings by infusing their scenes with the speed and wackiness typical of the best animation. Within this context, the owlish Hill succeeds through understatement, abandoning his typical comic shrillness for a more measured intelligence. Surprisingly, it's Tatum who makes a great human cartoon. His stoned demolition of the high school orchestra room is one of the film's many comic highlights.
In this raucous, high-spirited mess of a movie, Lord, Miller, and Bacall flip expectations and rough up cop-movie clichés every chance they get. They can't keep up the pace forever, but even as the film winds down there are throwaways and side bits that keep you on your toes, like the scene where Tatum and his AP chemistry buddies eavesdrop on drug dealers and pass the time by whipping throwing stars at a "KNEEL BEFORE ZOD" dartboard. Little touches like that make the bigger laughs much sweeter.
21 Jump Street